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Sue Sharpe: Pharmacies with debt left in 'really desperate position'

The funding squeeze has left pharmacies already with "a lot of debt" in "a really desperate position", the PSNC's CEO has said.

In an interview with C+D on Monday (January 15) – a month after it was announced that fraud prevention service CEO Simon Dukes will take the helm at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) when she retires in May – Sue Sharpe acknowledged that it is “a really, really difficult time for many in pharmacy”.

“Community pharmacy is really feeling the pinch,” from the funding cuts in England, an ongoing category M clawback and “massive increases in generic prices”, Ms Sharpe said.

“Each individual pharmacy has to manage its own problems,” she added. “Those that are exposed to a lot of debt are in a really desperate position.”

“It would be wrong of me to be in any way confident, on behalf of any pharmacy, that [the current funding situation] is something we can get through,” Ms Sharpe continued.

Ms Sharpe recognised that the sector is “not immune” to the financial pressures facing the whole of the NHS, but said it is “sad” that “pharmacies that are often really responsive to local needs…and in areas of high deprivation” are “being hit badly”.

“We have to recognise that – whether they accept it or not – there was a policy from [the] government, set out very clearly in [its] 2015 letter, that we have too many pharmacies. I’m afraid the growth in pharmacy numbers in the 10 years to 2015 did lead to that perception.”

Pharmacy's future and a new CEO

By the time her successor starts in May, the sector will be 10 months through the category M clawback, and Ms Sharpe is hopeful that generic prices will have stabilised.

She stressed that Mr Dukes is “someone with the right qualities to lead PSNC in the future”.

He was selected for his “leadership qualities”, which are “more important” than having a community pharmacy background, as is his “experience of working with government…passion for public service, and interest in health”, she added.

At the top of Mr Dukes’ to-do list will be “forging new, strong relationships with the Department of Health (DH) and NHS England”, and “ensur[ing] we have funding for the sector that is needed to support the really important care role that pharmacies are giving to people who need it across the country”.

On Tuesday, PSNC director of NHS services Alastair Buxton told delegates at a pharmacy seminar that the negotiator will "present [its] ideas" for a service-based pharmacy contract to the DH and NHS England in its upcoming funding discussions.

During the interview, C+D put three readers' questions to Ms Sharpe. Watch her tackle questions on purchase profits and generics price hikes here.

How is your pharmacy coping with the funding cuts?

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